What inspired you on this book?
Part of my job as a social worker for the homeless was to track down people who were often in crisis—mainly mentally ill people. I would search homeless camps, beaches, and abandoned fields among other places. This one time I went to a drainage ditch looking for this young woman who, according to reports I had received wasn’t talking and her source of food was questionable. I did find her. She had rotten food spread about her, bread turning green and strangely a mannequin dressed in a wedding dress. Her camp was hidden amongst boulders on the side of a rather large flood drain.
Another woman we found was comatose and covered in ants. Still another time I parked across the street from culverts that ran under the freeway. I saw a homeless woman crawling out of it. It was maybe four feet high at the most and green, slimy water trickled from it. So many peoples’ lives reside in my memory in such locations. Spooky places where people who are in desperate need of help hide from others, including those like myself whose job was to help them.
The life stories of literally thousands of people over the years living in squalor on the streets amongst some of the greatest wealth in this country inspire me daily. I try and hope to bring their situation to light in everything do.
Why did you want to become a writer?
I’m not sure that being a writer didn’t pick me. I have always written since I started in high school. Years later I started to keep a journal when so many of my clients were dying on the streets during the AIDS and crack epidemics that I was beginning to forget their particulars, which I felt extremely guilty about.
I began my “professional” career writing letters to the editors in response to very prejudicial articles against the homeless. The newspapers began to run my “letters” as guest opinion pieces. I remember being shocked at this development—something I wrote being published.
I met with an editor of the main newspaper in Santa Barbara, along with another homeless activist to complain of their coverage of the homeless. He offered us the chance to write rebuttals, which I followed up on. That newspaper began running my pieces fairly frequently. Then when that newspaper took a hard right detour an online news service offered me an ongoing column. And when they became uncomfortable with my articles criticizing Trump and the ongoing wars in the Middle East I moved to poetry and fiction which I have had, surprisingly success in getting published in a wide variety of journals, both online and hard copy and overseas. Looking back I see how each setback was in fact an opportunity, spurring me to expand my writings beyond my comfort zone.
As for the novels, a Hollywood screenplay writer came up to me after a speech I gave and told me the personal stories I had highlighted my talk with would make great material for a movie. From there I began to write screenplays then novels.
What was the hardest part of creating this book?
There really wasn’t one in the creation phase. Working for thirty years for the homeless in Santa Barbara and my experience in Vietnam during the war has given me about three lifetimes of raw material for my writings. I am a “driven” writer. I even wake up in the middle of the night with a new plot point, a stanza for a poem etc. and get up to write it down. The hard part about writing is getting published. For that I am very grateful to Sakura Publishing and Derek Vasconi, as well as the different publishers who have been graciously publishing my fiction and poetry. Every time I get discouraged someone comes along and does something professionally to keep me in the game.
What do you hope people gain from reading it?
Obviously I hope people can see the homeless as human people down on their luck. Very few people choose to become homeless. Mostly, homelessness is a symptom of some kind of disability: mental illness, survivors of war trauma, rape, spousal battery, physical ailments, and alcohol and drug addiction. Also those forced to the streets by economics: the outsourcing of jobs, and the destruction of industrial America.
When you were a kid, what were your favorite books?
Jack London’s, Call of the Wild. I picked up that book because of the cover featuring a wolf. I’m a big time dog lover. When I picked it up I was in maybe fourth grade and still couldn’t read. My parents had even put me in a private military academy in the hopes they could teach me, to no effect. But having seen that book and being unable to read it I began to pick up books targeting kids below my age to teach myself to read. Jack London saved my life—or at least a lifetime of being illiterate.
Once I had taught myself to read I devoured all kinds of books, in particular history and books about people with mental illness. But also others: Anne Frank has had a huge impact on me as did the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. I read that book twice in high school. That was the first time I came to realize that evil is a real entity.
What is your advice to people who are not excited about reading?
Books can open up the entire universe. Fiction “talks” to emotional truth that non-fiction misses. The emotional history of the human race can be found in books; our glories and our nightmares. During this time when our country seems to be exploding into separate tribes, books can remind us of the struggles, pains, fears, joys and triumphs we all share. Books allow us quiet time to process the human emotions of others and ourselves. Books also open up the vast unknown regions of our inner world as well as the great outer universe. It gives us time with ourselves where the outside world doesn’t intrude.
When you read you enter parallel universes, ones run with there own internal logic. To miss that magical component of life is a tragedy.
Why should we buy your book?
I have given numerous presentations to widely diverging audiences. I can’t remember one when the audience didn’t become fascinated with the unvarnished truth of the horrors and small triumphs that the homeless live with. Almost all of us have been touched with mental illness, drug addiction, alcoholism, trauma, rape and the everlasting consequences of war that the book deals with. It is a window into a world that touches many but mostly as a “drive by.”
If you think being homeless is simply one big party or if you somehow think that they are less than us then this book is for you. And if your soul bleeds whenever you pass a homeless person—there is a lot in FRACTURED ANGEL for you.
Fractured Angel is available on Amazon.